Following his second marvelous performance in two years against one of college football's most talented defenses, Clemson QB Deshaun Watson's draft stock is on the rise, according to three NFL executives. A general manager and two personnel directors now project the Tigers QB to be chosen in the top half of the 2017 NFL Draft's first round, per ESPN. Watson confirmed Monday night that he will apply for early eligibility to enter the draft as a junior.
"If (Robert Griffin III) and Vince Young and Marcus Mariota can go in the top couple of picks, there's no question Deshaun Watson can," one personnel director said. "He led his team against Alabama, one of the best defenses we've seen in a long time. He's done a ton of winning since he's been at Clemson. Absolutely do I think someone can take him in the top 10."
Watson passed for 420 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-31 win over Alabama on Monday night in the College Football Playoff title game, giving NFL scouts an ideal opportunity to evaluate him against a defense loaded with draft prospects. One personnel director described his draft stock as "skyrocketing" as a result of playoff wins over Alabama and Ohio State.
However, the early first-round projections don't necessarily mean NFL clubs will ultimately assign him an early first-round grade. A draft projection is not the same thing as a draft grade -- indeed, one of the personnel directors acknowledged he would not care to select Watson in the top 10.
NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah, in fact, has yet to hear word of a first-round grade for Watson from any club. There is a long way to go before NFL clubs set their draft boards in permanent ink, with the NFL Scouting Combine and about a month's worth of on-campus pro-day workouts still ahead. He's also been invited to the Reese's Senior Bowl as a junior, because he's already earned his degree, but has yet to decide if he'll participate in the event.
As usual, there will certainly be no shortage of NFL clubs in need of a quarterback holding an early first-round pick -- poor quarterback play and the poor records that beget such picks go hand in hand -- and that bodes well for Watson and any of the draft's other top passers. It also doesn't hurt Watson's cause that the draft is expected to be a weak one, overall, at the quarterback position.
How clubs assess their needs and the depth of the QB field is beyond Watson's control. What was in his control came Monday night, in dazzling fashion.